I Want Your Job: Woodkeeper

Climb trees and walk in the woods for cash

Rebecca Harrison, 43, is a woodkeeper at Highgate Wood in north London

What do you actually do?

We're very multi-skilled: we do everything from preparing the football and cricket pitches to finding lost dogs. We also do tree surgery and run conservation projects. A big part of the job is education – we often do free "walk talks" with schoolchildren, where they get to learn a bit more about nature.

Can you describe your working day?

Every day is completely different. I might be carrying out a tree survey, checking bat boxes, mowing grass or protecting a patch of bluebells. We've even helped London Zoo to collect wood for their small mammals' habitat. If I'm working an early shift, I start my day by walking through the woods with my dog and tidying the woodkeepers' hut, before opening the gates by 7am. The hours and duties depend a lot on the season. In the summer, it stays light for longer and a greater number of people use the woods, so we spend more time patrolling and picking up litter, and work more late shifts, finishing about 10pm.

What do you love about it?

You build relationships with the people who use the woods regularly, like young mums and dog walkers. My favourite part of the job is when we're doing tree work on a lovely day, and I climb to the top of a giant oak tree and look out right across London. It's great introducing children to the wonders of nature, showing them interesting insects and plants. In the summer, we organise bat watches, and people are totally entranced by the little bats.

What's not so great about the job?

I'm usually at work during those long summer evenings and weekends when everyone else is enjoying themselves. You have to kiss goodbye to your family and summer social life.

What skills do you need to do the job well?

You need a professional qualification in arboriculture, the use of a chainsaw, and the use of a chainsaw in a tree. You need to be a keen team-player, who's eager, versatile and committed. You've got to be approachable and to like being around people, because you're often working on the front line with the public.

What advice would you give to someone with their eye on your job?

Start volunteering for the British Trust for Conservation. You will make contacts and it's a brilliant way of finding out if conservation suits you. You might discover that slipping down a hill in the pouring rain while trying to plant a hedge is not your cup of tea. It's good to have an idea of the type of job you want and tailor your skills to that. I changed jobs in my thirties – I was working as a secretary and studied part-time to get the skills I needed. Look at courses in environmental conservation and landscape management, or look into doing an HND in public open spaces.

What's the salary and career path like?

The salary is dependent on your qualifications and where you live. You might start on about £12,000 a year if you work outside London, but with experience that could rise to around £27,000 if you're totally qualified and working within London. The best way to move up is to keep learning and adding new skills to your CV. With ongoing training, you could look at supervisor jobs or work as a team leader.

For more information on training and careers in woodkeeping and forestry, visit the Forest Stewardship Council at fsc-uk.org; the Royal Forestry Society at rfs.org.uk; the Forestry Commission at forestry.gov.uk; the Institute of Chartered Forestry at charteredforesters.org; or the Arboricultural Association at trees.org.uk